The defining features of a lute are its pear shaped back and its peg box bent back at ninety degrees from the neck. The frets were created by tying lengths of gut around the neck. Most later lutes had a single sound hole, but these were ornately carved and called a rose.
The lute was descended from the Arabic instrument called the ud or al'ud.
The lute seems to have been a melodic instrument up until the end of the fifteenth century, plasyed with a plectrum.
During the 16th Century its polyphonic capabilities were more fully explored, and it became more common to play with the fingers.